Sunday, 24 November 2013

Of Death, Design and Cuenca's Independence Day: Part the Third (3rd November, 2013: Snapshots from the 193rd Anniversary of Cuenca's Declaration of Independence)

It is dusk and whilst strolling along the riverside of the Rio Tomebamba in central Cuenca I am drawn in by the anti-hubbub you get when the milling masses pull up and huddle for a moment, focusing their collective attention on something.  I approach to investigate. 

A small crowd have gathered around a street artist who is hunched over a sheet of posterboard, a can of spray-paint in hand.  He is using the can to spritz the delicate curve of a tree-trunk haloed in the twilight onto the posterboard.  He reaches down to pick up another can. 

But hold on, ¿why has he got a cigarette lighter in his other hand?  ¿What's he doing with...
¡BWOOOOOMSSSSSSHHHH!  A great leaping arc of fire emanates from the point where the projection of spray has crossed the lighter's flame.

It turns out he has not become disenamoured with his work and attempted to destroy it in a fit of pique, but is merely using a rather grandstanding method to quick-dry the paint.  I spend the next 15 minutes or so watching the variation of slow, gentle arcs of spray paint counterpointed by sudden bursts of noisy conflagration, quite transfixed by the showmanship of it all.

This is one of the many artistic and artisanal delights on view from artists and makers who have gathered about the riverside over the independence weekend as an (in this case quite probably not officially invited) part of the 11th Festival Artesanías de América, organised by Cuenca's Interamerican Centre of Crafts and Popular Arts to coincide with the 193rd Anniversary of Cuenca's declaration of independence.

A veritable glut of gazebos have been set up, from which artisans from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Uruguay are peddling an eclectic mix of alpaca shawls, straw hats and diverse items of leatherware; woolen sheep figurines and wooden tea dispensers; elephant-shaped ovens and children's mobiles made out of painted gourds hung from strings; handmade guitars and charangos; jewellery of silver, gold, stone and bead; etchings, paintings, carvings and playthings many and splendid in their variety and ingenuity; and, around the edges of the festival proper, more cheap and cheerful tat than you can swing a bag of cents at.

It is a sun-drenched early afternoon and I am standing watching delegations from each of Cuenca's barrios (neighbourhoods) filing past in celebratory high-spirits; all togged up in traditional dress, spinning and twirling, skirts a-whirling, offering sweet treats to the assembling masses from the backs of gaudied-up trucks

Crowd Control

A few hasty wanderers attempt to cross the path of the parade and are pre-emptively headed-off by a traffic steward who halts them by the simple expedient of blowing a streamer in their faces, which makes a satisfying wooshing sound.   The swirl and colour of the parade continues unabated. 

People relaxing in Parque de la Madre, taking the sudden appearance of pre-historic predators with impressive serenity.
I wander south of the Rio Tomebamba to Parque de la Madre in order to check out the progress on the construction of Cuenca's new planetarium ('the largest in Ecuador' as the under-construction sign proudly proclaims) and am presented with a most fearsome sight.  The park has been invaded by a group of fang-baring dinosaurs who are stalking ominously across the field.  This doesn't seem to have deterred the people from coming out for a picnic however.  Perhaps the pre-historic beasties have been roped-into lending their considerable bulk to help out with the construction effort.

Cuenca's new planetarium - now open to the public.

A Chola Cuencana in traditional dress made entirely from flowers - displayed in the Plaza de Flores.
And the extent of the celebrations doesn't end there.  It seems that in every park and open space in the city there is some kind of event going on.  The rest of my Cuenca independence weekend flies by in a melange of military parades (tanks, mortars and all), late night street concerts (all cumbia dancing, toffee-apples and sausages-on-a-stick) donkey races, orchestral performances (replete with cannon fire, mariachi singers and pyrotechnics), traditional dance displays and a thousand call-and-responses of:

<<¡QUE VIVA CUENCA!>>                                                                       <<¡QUE VIVA!>>

Long live Cuenca indeed.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Of Death, Design and Cuenca's Independence Day: Part the Second (We Do Not Want A Tyrant King)

In my last post I regaled you with tales of the Ecuadorian Day of the Deceased, which takes place on the 2nd of November.  But the Day of the Deceased is far from the only thing celebrated in Cuenca during the start of November.  Quite the reverse, for the 3rd of November, 1820 was the day that Cuenca declared its independence.

Cuenca's coat of arms.   Motto: First God and then wait your turn Sonny-Jim.  (n.b. I may have added that last bit)

Antonio Vallejo, the irascible and inflexible governor of Cuenca, is not best pleased.  He has woken to find the walls of the town, the king's walls, daubed with the following seditious slogan:

<<Nobles ciudadanos, prevengan las armas para la libertad nuestra y la de nuestros queremos tirano rey>>

<< Noble citizens, arm yourselves for our liberty and that of our children...
We do not want a tyrant king>>

In the coming days he will hear rumours of rabble-rousing leaflets calling for 'liberty and not these many oppressions' circulating amongst the citizenry of the town.  His zeal against the enemies of the king will not be found wanting, and his search will be exacting and thorough, but the people of Cuenca will remain tight-lipped and the culprits of this first cry for liberty will never be found. 

This day. the 21st of march 1795, will come to be known as the day the call for independence was first proclaimed in the streets of Cuenca.

Dr. José María Vásquez de Noboa - Mayor of Cuenca

A man riding an unsaddled packhorse, blood streaming from a bayonet wound in his leg, is criss-crossing the streets of Cuenca calling out to the people, exhorting them to rise up against royalist oppression.  His name is Tomás Ordóñez and it is the 3rd of November, 1820.

A week earlier, he was in the house of his father Paulino Ordóñez (one of the men suspected of the circulation of seditious leaflets in 1795), listening to an impassioned speech calling for a revolution against the monarchist government, delivered by his mother Margarita Torres in front of a group of revolutionary conspirators. 

Spurred on by Guayaquil's almost bloodless coup on October the 9th and undettered by two previous failed attempts to liberate Cuenca, the 'patriots' are confident that they have both the support of the people and also that of a powerful and influential co-conspirator.  They agree to take action on the following Friday and that is just what they do.

A few hours prior to his blood-spattered gallop of exhortation, Tomás had entered the Plaza de Armas accompanied by 8 other 'patriots'.  In the plaza, Dr. José María Vásquez de Noboa, the mayor of Cuenca and the king's representative in the city, was proclaiming Reales Ordenes Españolas, the king's commands, accompanied by a military bodyguard.  Unbeknownst to the bodyguard, Dr Vásquez de Noboa is the influential co-conspirator who has assisted in the masterminding of the plot and helped to arm the rebels.  Tomás and his fellow patriots had drawn arms, let out a cry for freedom and charged upon the bodyguard, thereby beginning the Battle for Cuenca.

¿Was Noboa a true believer in the revolution? or ¿was this a mere act of political expediency?   If he was playing the political game he did it with consummate skill: when patriots petitioning for Quito's independence on the 10th of August 1809 were unceremoniously bundled into jail Noboa loudly voiced his opposition to the petition; and when Guayaquil declared its independence on October 9, 1820, he categorically refused to second the proclamation.   He did however allow an open meeting of the city council to discuss the ramifications of Guayaquil's independence.  ¿Convert to the revolutionary cause, longtime double-agent or Machiavellian pragmatist?  You decide. 

Following the initial skirmish in the Plaza de Armas, the patriots regrouped in Plaza San Sebastian and officially declared Cuenca's independence in front of a large gathering of the people.  As you might expect, the royalists were somewhat unimpressed by this and the two sides engaged in a series of clashes, fracases, affrays and melees in which the royalists superior arms had them slowly gaining the upper hand. 

After two days of heavy fighting, and when all seemed to be lost for the revolutionary cause, on the afternoon of the fourth of November, 1820, reinforcements arrrived from the town of Chuquipata and helped to drive the royalist forces from the town.  

José María Vásquez de Noboa,
now chief of government of the Republic of Cuenca, opened his letter to General Santander, vice-president of Colombia, informing him of the victory, with the following words:

<<Los días 3 y 4 del presente fueron los de la mayor ignominia
para los agentes del despotismo.>>
<<The 3rd and 4th days of the present month were days of the greatest ignominity
for the agents of despotism.>>

At last, Cuenca had its independence and was free from the tyranny of the monarch (In fact, the city would be retaken barely a month later in a bloody battle, and face over a year of brutal repression until the arrival of Marshal Sucre's army on the 22nd of February, 1822, in the run-up to the Battle of Pichincha, would deliver a final crushing blow to the shackle of Imperialism in the city.  But let's skim over that inconvenient little detail).

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Of Death, Design and Cuenca's Independence Day: Part the First (Lest They Should Die the Social Death)

One of my students waves me over into the corner of the class with a conspiratorial air.  She is holding a small object concealed in a nondescript, black plastic bag.  She flashes me a nervous smile.

<<This is a baby.  It's for you.>>

This has to go down as one of the creepiest statements I've ever been on the receiving end of.  I feel like I've taken a wrong turn and ended up in Royston Vasey (feel free to replace this archetype with your own preferred flavour of disquieting and surreal small-town setting, perhaps something from David Lynch).  Apprehensive doesn't begin to cover it. 

She reaches her hand into the bag: my breath is held and my fingers crossed in the fervent hope that I'm not about to become enmeshed in a shadowy child trafficking ring or accessory to a case of infanticide.

She draws the small object out from the bag.  It is at once both beautiful and grotesque.  A bijou, baby-shaped confectionery: all sugared bread and goo and dried fruit.

<<We have them when we celebrate the Day of the Deceased.>>

Well...that's lovely (in a very particular sense of the term lovely).  I am taken aback by this apparently unbidden, yet somewhat sinister, generosity.

A few moments later, she comes up to me again, red faced.

<<Incidentally, I think I stole your pen.>>

<<¿How do you know it's my pen?>>

<<It has your name written on it, teacher.>>

And so it does.  A Christmas present from my parents, onto which they had my given and family thoughtfully engraved school-jumper style, lest I should forget.  I hadn't been quite sure where I'd misplaced it (this is not an unusual state of affairs in the grand lackadaisy that is my humble existence, hence the engraving) but here it is, returned safe and sound

In an odd way, the two gifts share a certain forget-me-not quality, one in remembrance of those past, the other in order that I carry a memento of who I am (that is if I don't leave it lying around for students to inadvertently pilfer).

And with that, the mystery of the unsolicited present comes clear.  ¡Ah sweet guilt, oh great shame-flushed bearer of gifts!

So ¿what is this sugar-coated monstrosity? I hear you ask.  It's called a 'guagua de pan'.  Guagua (or wawa) is the gloriously onomatopoeic word for a baby or young child in the Quechua (and its Ecuadorian cousin Kichwa) and Aymara languages of the Andes.  So, a 'guagua de pan' translates literally as a 'bread baby'.

Originally made to represent and honor those who had died young, they are a traditional element of the Ecuadorian celebration of the Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased), which takes place each year on the 2nd of November (shifted from its ancient perch to coincide with the Catholic celebration of All Souls' Day).

The people of the Andes don't lavish quite the same level of macabre opulence upon their commemorations of the departed as the Mexicans do: shell-encrusted, spirit-awakening, dancing skeletons and sugar skulls are conspicuous by their absence.

The difference in approach is rooted in the difference in traditional belief.  In the Aztec world, life and death were considered to be intricately intertwined: typical depictions of burial show the greedy earth opening its maw to devour the dead.  Skeletal imagery was symbollic of the cycle of fertility and regrowth and the imagery of the Mexican Dia de Muertos reflects this.

Amongst the offerings laid for the adult dead during the Mexican celebrations are bottles of tequila, mezcal and pulque, which would no doubt please Centzon Totochtin, the four hundred hard-partying rabbit gods of drunkenness in Aztec mythology.   The focus is definitely upon the joyous celebration of the cycle of rebirth.

One of the Centzon Totochtin - not averse to a bevy.
In keeping with the more reserved but highly communal nature of the people of the Andes, the focus of their Día de los Difuntos is slightly different.  The Inca made a distinction between two deaths, the rather mundane death of the body, and the far more serious social death which occurs when your ancestors cease to remember you.   The act of remembrance in the Ecuadorian Día de los Difuntos helps to keep the souls of the departed from suffering this social death.

Differences notwithstanding, what the Andean celebrations do share in common with their Mexican counterpart is that families bring offerings to their deceased relatives and ancestors, often having a picnic at the graveside along with the spirits from the Más Allá (great beyond)

Headstones and burial plots are cleaned, flowers are placed, the living and the dead have a good catch-up and the deceased's favourite foods are consumed for their benefit; along with guaguas de pan and their traditional accompaniment: 'colada morada'.

The deep purple of a Catholic funeral mass, of mourning and penitence, 'colada morada' translates literally as 'dark purple strained'.  It is made from various combinations of fruits such as andean blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, naranjilla and babaco; panela (cane sugar), cornflour, lemongrass, lemon verbana and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and ishpingo: all mixed together and served up warm and steaming.

In the days leading up to the Día de los Difuntos, guaguas de pan and colada morada suddenly become available from every bakers, every cafe and restaurant and every street stall and peddler's cart in the city.  Cuenca's tradespeople are clearly determined to ensure that no soul shall suffer the social death through forgetfulness.

Perhaps now is an apt moment to heed their advice (with or without confectionery assistance) and think upon those who have passed, lest they should die the social death for mere want of remembrance.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Cuenca: Bounty, Beauty and Bureaucracy - Part IV (Signed in Triplicate)

In Spanish there is a word, 'trámite', which means 'an act or process of bureaucracy'.  There is also another, somewhat less formal, word, 'cagatintas', which translates literally as 'ínk-shitter' and whose closest equivalent in English is the somewhat less evocative 'penpusher', or perhaps 'jobsworth'.

It is with good reason that the Spanish language possesses these words, as the Imperial Spanish, and their Latin-american post-colonial successors have raised the process of form-filling, red-taping, nit-picking, signed-in-triplicate bureaucracy to a fine art. 

And it is towards the first fusillade of this monumental bombardment of paperwork that you find me heading, with a sheaf of passport and visa photocopies in hand, all ready to be notarised.

The lady at the notaries scrutinizes my photocopies, then my passport, then me, then my photocopies again and finally, apparently convinced that I am not a diabolical fraudster, stamps the documents with a satisfyingly large stamp, then another yet more grand stamp and then, just for good measure, with an even more elaborate, hardwood, cathedral-doorhandle of a stamp.  Satisfied with her work, she turns to me and says:

<<Okay, you are ready.  I will take you to see the doctor now.>>

This is a somewhat alarming turn of events.  ¿Is there a medical?  In my two and a bit months back in the UK over the summer I've been hitting the alcohol pretty hard with a succession of old friends and relatives. ¿Would my liver be deemed unfit for passport copy notarisation?

She ushers me through to an adjoining room, wherein sits a gentleman at least as austere and official as the hardwood stamp that preceded him.  Tweed suited and starch shirted, adorned with elaborate horn-rimmed spectacles and topped with a shock of tousled-grey hair.  It would not have surprised me in the slighest had he got up at that very moment and ushered his assistant into a TARDIS with a great burst of light and retro-synth effects, to save the universe from another dalek invasion

He opens his mouth, and out of it emanates a deep, sonorous, treacle-pudding voice with the gramophone-crackly hints of a long attachment to fine pipe tobacco:

<<¿These documents are yours?>>

<<Yes, doctor.>>  I reply, my voice unexpectedly husky.

He peers down at the documents appraisingly, and, with the full gravity of his officialdom, flourishes a signature. 

The lady gives me a the slightest of nods, and with a final genuflect to the doctor, we shuffle deferentially backwards out of the room: a pair of mere laymen in the presence of the law.

I wander, still shrouded in my own great humility, to the school I'm working for, in order to pass my documents across to the member of staff who has been assigned to babystep me through the registration process.

She sweeps a lazy glance over the notarised documents while informing me that I need to go to the local police station next in order to get something called a Movimiento Mirgratorio....

<<Oh, that's interesting.>>  She remarks with a tone of mild curioisity.

These are words I have come to truly dread, particularly when coming from someone with certificates hanging on their wall and letters after their names; lawyers, auditors, doctors and the like.  You don't want them to find your situation the remotest bit interesting; you want them to find it humdrum and run of the mill, worthy of the merest tick of the pen and not the slightest flicker of interest.

Interesting is a long, precedent-setting and above all expensive court case; interesting is an as yet incurable new strain of disease which will provide them with a much talked about research paper and you with a singularly excruciating death; interesting is an exhuastive and destitution inducing audit of your affairs which dredges up incriminating paper trails to all those offshore accounts you thought you'd hidden so well.  Interesting means complications, trouble and reams of paperwork.

It turned out that the border control at Quito had wrongly stamped the visa in my passport as a 12-iii and not a 12viii.  A 12iii stamp would technically make me a British diplomat.  After drifting briefly off into a daydream about what I could do with all that sweet impunity (swimming in a pool of forged banknotes with the coked-up ambassadors that I'd invited to shmooze at my on-the-hush-hush diplomatic speakeasy), I crash landed back on planet what-do-I-have-to-do-about-it with a resounding thud.

The problem, she said, was not one that could be handled at the Cuenca police headquarters.  The upshot of which was that I'd have to go to Guayaquil (a day trip away) the following Friday to get it sorted.  But it was alright, I could (1) take the three and a half hour bus-ride there, (2) find the polive headquarters, (3) jump through the necessary hoops and (4) hop the bus straight back in time to teach my evening lesson.  I made a mental note to (1) sort out asap another teacher to cover my lesson instead.

And I would have company too.  I wasn't the only one who had had their passports wrongly stamped, there were two other teachers from the school going.  Somehow the prospect of company didn't quite offset the gravity of the fact that more than a tenth of the new intake of teachers had had their passports mis-stamped: a whole gaggle of educators unintentionally posing as retirees, business-people and diplomats.

I've heard mixed reviews about Guayaquil, Ecuador's biggest city and apparently a somewhat characterless metropolis, but my trip has armed me with scant evidence to confirm or deny these rumours.

Some of the highlights of my trip included; the van station; the bus station food court; the sunbaked concrete pavement where I spent a jolly half hour sweating out a fair proportion of my body fluids in the midday sun waiting for the Jefatura Provincial de Migracion to re-open post-siesta; numerous minor brawls, which are apparently the Guayaquil equivalent of queuing; and an hour sat on the Jefatura's attractively vac-formed, primary-colours-only-please plastic seating awaiting the updating of my visa.

As well as being the highlights of my time in Guayaquil, these were also my only experiences during my time in Guayaquil.

As it was, we eventually got our Movimiento Migratorios, hopped the next van back to Cuenca and arrived back just in time to be an hour late for our classes. 

The following Monday I returned to the school to discover that my notarised copies had to be in colour not black and white so I would have to get more copies and have them notarised

I arrived at the familiar
city centre notaries to discover that they were closed for siesta.  Ah well, I figured, I could maybe squeeze a quick notarisation session in during my hour and a half between lessons this afternoon.

A few hours later, I am exiting the school with the intention of hunting out a nearby notary when I run into Oliver, another teacher from the school, coming the other way.   Formerly of London, England, he's been living in Cuenca for some time now and I've been told that he's a man in the know.  Perhaps now is the time to test his street-savvy.

<<¡Oliver!  ¿Do you happen to know where there is a notary near here?>>

<<Well the one the school uses is just over that way past the football stadium.>>

¿What road is it on?>>

<<You can't miss it.  Go past the stadium and it's on the big road, between a bunch of taco places and a sex shop.>>

<<¡¿Between a taco place and a sex shop?!>>

<<Yeah, it's called Sexta>>

<<¿What the sex shop?>>

<<No, the notaries.>>

Street-savvy tested and found not wanting.

It's interesting (at least for a language nerd such as myself) to note that the sexta I was now gong to is etymolgycially entangled with the siesta that had just caused me to miss the previous notary.

The siesta or midday repose of Spain derives ultimately from the latin 'hora sexta', that being the sixth hour from dawn.

There is a reason for this midday drowsiness.  From the point when one wakes, the homeostatic drive towards sleep begins to grow, in the mid-afternoon it becomes counterbalanced by the circadian signal for wakefulness.  The urge to siesta strikes when the homeostatic signal has had time to build but the circadian signal has not yet kicked in.

The sex of 'sex shop' however, most probably originated from a different etymological root (Australians - the pun is intended) altogether, connected to the latin 'secare' (to divide or cut) with the idea of the division of the two genders.  It wasn't until that filthy old toerag D.H.Lawrence put pen to paper in 1929 that we first have it written down in the sense of 'sexual intercourse'.

But its neither sexta nor sex shop that I stumble across first, but another notary's office entirely. 
I wander in through the door but not a step further.  The queue trundles back across the office and fills up all the seats around to the door.

I wait there for 15 minutes before someone wanders in and joins the queue about ten people in front of me.  I am bemused, then mildly peeved and finally realisation dawns.  I lean down to the lady in front of me

<<¿Excuse me.  Is this the queue?>>

She simply shakes her head, leaving me a little nonplussed to have been left standing in the doorway for 15 minutes like a numpty.

As it happens, it doesn't matter much as the queue hasn't moved one bit in the 15 minutes since I arrived.

So I move forward to join the queue proper and obediently wait in line.

Well, I say in line.  The word 'line', comes from the Latin 'linea' and originally referred to a thread of flax (linen) pulled taut for purposes of measurement.  Lines are, by definition, straight.

This was not a line.  

This was a squiggle.

A great, curving snake of a squiggle, thin at points, bulging plentifully at others, lazilly arcing its way towards the desks. 

There is an experiment in physics called the Double-slit Experiment in which photons of light are shot at a plate with two slits. The photons pass through the slits, interfering with each other to produce a pattern of light and dark.

But even when the rate of photons is slowed to the point where they are not able to interfere with each other, the pattern remains.  This leads to the mind-boggling conclusion that the photon must be going through both slits simultaneously and interfering with itself (oooh errrr misses, titter).  This is because of quantum.

Ecuadorian queuing is very quantum.  Sometimes you move on, sometimes you don’t, other times you both move on and yet get nowhere.  Nothing is certain, it's all a question of probability.

I remained in line for a solid hour of this directionless flux queuing before I ran out of time

The next day I took Oliver's sage advice and hunted out Sexta. 

You can tell this photo was taken on a Sunday as the sex shop
owner has shut up shop to go to church.
It turned out to be a rum tip-off as it took me less than 20 minutes to get my copies notarised.  Narrowly resisting the urge to pop in next door and buy a pair of edible knickers on the same trip, I made my way to the final stage of my bureauodyssey; registering with the Foreign Affairs Ministry,

<<I’m here to get my passport visa registered.>>

<<Is that your passport or your visa you want registered?>>  Asks the guard/official at the Ministry..

<<I want to register this visa in my passport.>>

<<So that’s the visa then?>>


<<Here’s a ticket.  Come back at 11:30.>>  

It was 9:30, which meant I now had two hours to kill with non-specified activities.

Cut to 11:30.

<<Good morning, I’m here to get my visa registered.  Here’s my ticket.>>

<<Who told you to come here?>>

<<You told me to come back at 11:30.>>

The guard/official recovers with some aplomb.

<<Yes, that does sound like the kind of thing I would say.   Take a seat please.>>

After 15 minutes of thumb-twiddling, I am called up to the front-desk where my documents are perused, a few forms are signed, stamps are given a ceremonious stamping and all appears to be well.

<<Ok all done.  Now all we need is 2 copies of the stamp and one copy each of the passport photo page and the visa.>>

The clerk at the front-desk points over to a room containing a giant photocopier.  I wander in, causing the guard/official to shout out in exasperation.

<<No, not there!   You need to go to the shop outside.>>

Advice noted, I wander out to the conveniently located copy shop outside and return to the desk with the requested copies.

<<Can you sign these please.>>

I sign them.

<<Ok. That’s everything.  Could you just go through to that room over there.>>

He points over to a room containing a giant photocopier.  I wander in, causing the guard/official to shout out in exasperation.

<<No, you can’t just go in there.  You have to take a ticket and wait in line first.>>

I get a ticket and wait for my number to come up.  When it does, I head into the room; taking the blessed lack of exasperated shouting as a good sign.

I sit at the nearest desk and hand my documents to a lady with a well practiced impression of government-sanctioned indifference.  She peers down at my papers. 

Un ange passe.

All around is frenetic activity, hustle and bustle, confering and signing and stamping and hubbub.  The giant photocopier however, sits resolutely unused.  Perhaps its just for display, a pleasant focal point.

She looks up <<Ok these all seem to be in order.  Can you go to the bank-teller at the end of the corridor and pay four dollars.>>

<<I’m sorry.  I thought that the registration process was free.>>

<<Oh it is.  This payment is for the registration of the registration.  That costs four dollars.>>

Hmmm, that all seems quite reasonable.

I direct myself towards the bank teller's stall and wait to be served.  The nearest guard/official approaches and tells me to queue the right way, despite the fact there is no one else in the queue and no visible indication of which direction I should be queuing in.

My queuing faux-pas rectified, the teller appears, I get my receipt, pay and return to the room of the photocopier.

<<Here you go, have a nice day.>> The lady says in a prozac-dead tone which clearly implies she couldn't care less what kind of day I have.  She passes me my documents. 

A few tentative steps towards the exit don't result in me being shouted at.  I figure this means I am okay to go... I go.

All my trámites over (until the next ones), I wander out into the crisp afternoon sunshine.

And so, with that, I bid you a fond farewell for now. 

I leave you with this final comforting thought:

                           Republics, confederations and empires may rise and fall,
                                               but bureaucracy is here to stay.